HELENA — A Republican-backed effort to qualify Montana Green Party candidates for the general election ballot was rejected by the Montana Supreme Court on Wednesday.
The justices upheld District Judge James Reynolds’ Aug. 7 ruling that granted the requests of more than 560 people to remove their names from the petitions after they learned the Montana Green Party did not support the effort.
It was later revealed that the Montana Republican Party had bankrolled the $100,000 signature-gathering effort and violated campaign finance laws by not properly reporting the expenditure.
Green Party candidates are believed to draw votes away from Democratic candidates. Montana has tight races for both a U.S. Senate and U.S. House seat.
Reynolds’ ruling left the Green Party without enough signatures to qualify for the ballot. The secretary of state’s office appealed Reynolds’ ruling.
The Supreme Court issued an expedited 5-2 ruling Wednesday because Montana’s general election ballots must be certified by Thursday. Justices said they would provide their full opinion and analysis later.
Separately, U.S. District Judge Dana Christensen on Wednesday denied a motion for a temporary restraining order and a preliminary injunction sought by two Montana Green Party candidates and two voters, who said Reynolds’ ruling violated their constitutional rights and discounted their votes in the primary election.
“Even if the merits favored Plaintiffs — and they do not — an injunction would nonetheless be inappropriate, given the parallel proceeding before the Montana Supreme Court,” Christensen wrote Wednesday.
The Montana Democratic Party and four people who signed Green Party petitions filed the state lawsuit after Secretary of State Corey Stapleton refused requests to remove voter signatures from the petitions, saying the requests were not filed or notarized before March 6, when he certified that Green Party candidates could file for office.
However, the judge said there is nothing in state law that created that deadline or a requirement for notarized signatures.
Reynolds’ decision marks the second time in two years that he removed Green Party candidates from the ballot, In 2018, in another complaint filed by the Montana Democratic Party, he invalidated signatures that didn’t match those on file with counties and invalidated others that were submitted by people who did not collect the signatures.
It was never determined who was behind the 2018 effort to get Green Party candidates on the Montana ballot. But the Green Party of Montana said it was not behind the efforts in 2018 or 2020.
The 2019 Legislature passed a law requiring timely reporting of spending on minor party ballot- qualification efforts.
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